U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber had the daunting task of
redesigning the half dollar along with the dime and quarter dollar
denominations after a public design competition failed to generate
The Mint Act of Sept. 26, 1890,
allowed for coins in use for at least 25 years to be redesigned. The
coins named after the engraver who designed them would be the first to
be affected by the new mandate.
The final designs
selected for the Barber half dollar would be the same as used for the quarter.
COIN VALUES: See how much Barber half dollar coins are worth today
The obverse design Barber initially submitted showed Columbia
standing holding a liberty pole with an eagle in the background. This
design was ditched in favor of Mint Director Edward Leech's desire for
a head of Liberty comparable to several French bronze and silver coins
from the Third Republic.
For the reverse, Leech leaned toward the use of the national
standard of a eagle symbolizing the nation's strength.
number of pattern designs were submitted for the reverse of both the
quarter and half dollar, but Mint and Treasury officials had
difficulty in selecting a design. They took their time trying to
settle on the number of points on the stars, the number of olive
leaves and arrows.
The obverse design showing a bust
right of Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap encircled by a wreath captured
13 six-pointed stars instead of five-pointed stars (normally found on
U.S. coins) around the visage.
The reverse design
selection became somewhat more complicated. The adopted design dropped
the clouds above the eagle's head, moved the stars from points around
the eagle to the field above the eagle, and moved the ribbon with E
PLURIBUS UNUM grasped in the eagle's beak running to behind the
eagle's neck instead of in front.
On the adopted reverse,
the eagle's right wing (left side of coin) crosses the letter E
in UNITED below the middle serif, leaving most of the letter
The first Barber half dollars were ejected from
the coinage presses at the Philadelphia Mint at 9 a.m. Jan 2,
Eight years later, the obverse hub for die
production was modified for use on coins beginning in 1901. The
difference is most readily seen in at Liberty's ear. The Type II hub
has a fuller lobe and clearly defined rib of central cartilage.
Half dollars were struck at all four Mint production facilities
for circulation: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Denver and New Orleans.
There were no Barber half dollars struck in 1916.
were also a number of Mint mark changes for the half dollar series,
for New Orleans and San Francisco, according to David Lawrence's book,
The Complete Guide to Barber Halves.
Most of the
half dollars struck at the New Orleans Mint carry a medium-sized O
Mint mark, while some of the later years (1903 and 1905) also have a
more wide open O. A micro O Mint mark, the size of which was used on
the Barber quarter, is found on some 1892 half dollars. It is also
reported on some 1898 issues as well.
Lawrence notes at
least four types of S Mint marks from San Francisco can be identified
for the series. Early dates, 1892 to 1898, exhibited a well-rounded,
closed Mint mark. A second type, also found on 1898 coins, is more
open. The third type is straighter and more open and can be found as
early as 1899.
The fourth type is a thin S that appears
later in the series. Lawrence notes some years have several Mint mark
types, and some examples carry Mint marks that do not match any of the
four other identified types.
Barber half dollars were
produced for the minimum 25 years, after which Adolph A. Weinman's
Walking Liberty half dollar design was approved.
are 73 coins by date and Mint mark to make up the basic set. The keys
and the semi-keys to the Barber half dollar series include the 1892-O,
1895-S, 1913, 1914 and 1915. Other tough dates include 1892-O Micro O,
1893-S, 1894, 1896, 1896-O, 1896-S, 1897-O, 1897-S, 1898-O, 1901-S,
1903 and 1913-S.